The Science Behind Abuse—Part 2

science-behind-abuse-2-300x200The more we understand how domestic violence makes its way into people’s lives, the more we can do to stop it from happening. Science, though evolving, has a lot to say about the underlying causes of abuse. Whether this is your first offense, or if you’ve been arrested for domestic violence before—if you have found yourself in legal trouble over domestic violence, understanding the possible triggers for it can help you take steps to break the cycle in your own life and prevent repeat offenses. Let’s continue our discussion of the various factors science says may play a role in the development of abusive behaviors.

Neurochemical Factors Behind Abuse

Neurochemistry is the science behind the chemical processes in our central nervous system–the chemical responses that affect how our brains and nerves respond to stimuli. The idea that domestic violence is linked to neurochemistry is a relatively new field of study, but it has already compiled a strong case. Neurochemistry is being looked at as one of the key pieces to understand why people abuse, and it represents an exciting new direction for intervention possibilities down the road. The link between neurotransmitters and abusive behavior may actually predict an abuser’s likelihood of reoffending—and this information might one day prove valuable in predicting which abusers are more likely to escalate violence and should therefore be monitored closely.

Neurochemicals Associated with Violence and Aggression

While the field of study is new and evolving, the research so far suggests that the following neurotransmitters (among others) may play a role in domestic violence:

  • Oxytocin. Sometimes called the “love drug,” oxytocin is released into our bodies naturally during moments of intimacy. It also is present to assist with childbirth and lactation. But it’s a complicated hormone that sometimes has other effects, and it has sometimes been linked to increased rates of violence, especially when administered artificially to treat other ailments.
  • Dopamine. Dopamine, the reward hormone, appears to play a key role in what drives abuse as it is the chemical in charge of our sense of reward and pleasure, as well as its role in addiction. Specifically, lowered levels of dopamine in the brain may be linked to increased aggression.
  • Serotonin. Serotonin is the chemical in charge of our mood, instigating all functions that lead us to feel happy or sad. Abusers tend to have lower serotonin levels than the non-abusive population, which could explain why they are quicker to fly into rages. There are also studies that suggest that fluctuations of serotonin levels (not just a deficiency) may contribute to aggression.
  • “Stress hormones.” Sensitivity to stress can stem from biochemical imbalances and may lead to increased cortisol and adrenaline levels in the body. These stress hormones may also play a role in shorter tempers and increased tendencies toward aggression.

Substance Abuse and Neurochemistry

The link between drug and alcohol abuse and domestic violence is well-established. Some studies have shown that substance abuse is a factor in at least 40-60 percent of domestic violence cases–but others have suggested the rates are much higher. According to CDC statistics, 90 percent of men who committed domestic violence said they abused a substance the same day. And yet another study concludes that half of all men in domestic violence treatment programs also have a substance abuse addiction.

All that being said, the study of neurochemistry may be able to explain more of the dynamics behind how people become addicted to drugs and alcohol—and even more importantly, how these substances change people’s neurochemical responses to make them more prone to violent behavior.

Genetic Factors Behind Abuse

Genetics refers to a person’s inherited tendencies and traits. It involves studying how genes work together with environmental factors to influence behavior—which is why genetics researchers are quick to highlight that many behaviors can be influenced by genetic and environmental factors.

While genetics research into domestic violence has been relatively limited, there is some evidence suggesting that there are certain genetic markers that could help predict a propensity for violent behavior. Some studies have suggested that a strong presence of the MAOA “warrior gene” could enhance the likelihood of abusive patterns. One study concluded that “genetic factors accounted for 24% of the variance in hitting one’s partner.”

These studies underscore the patterns we already see—that sometimes domestic violence “runs in the family.” In many cases, this may occur simply because someone was exposed to domestic violence in their family, but these scientific discoveries suggest there could even be a genetic element, as well.

Breaking the Cycles of Violence

While these scientific explanations behind domestic violence may answer many questions as to why and how it happens, we must emphasize that none of these factors suggests that violence is inevitable. Even if someone is more prone to violence due to environmental, psychological, neurochemical, or even genetic factors, there are still ways to change one’s behavior and reduce the risks of violence. It may involve deep soul-searching, addiction treatment, professional therapy, and in rare cases, even medications—but knowing what factors might make you more prone to violence can help you know what steps to take to break the cycle.

If you’ve been arrested or are criminal charges for domestic violence in Los Angeles, our team can provide experienced, compassionate legal representation to help you navigate the complicated court process. Call our office today for a free case evaluation.

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